The 2014 movie meant to be an attack against climate skeptics was loosely based on the 2010 book of the same name written by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. Oreskes became notorious for her published claims that there exist no papers that disagree with the global warming orthodoxy – here you have some 1,350 counterexamples. As an assistant professor sometimes in 2005, I have had huge problems with that evil woman. She's the kind of (just slightly) feminime Stalin who doesn't hesitate to damage the lives of people whom she finds ideologically inconvenient.
The movie is 94 minutes long and you may watch a trailer through amazon.com or buy a DVD or BlueRay if you pay a few bucks. Don't be afraid that you will help some people financially. The movie's budget was about $23 million and it has earned less than 1% of this amount in the box office. But the sponsors won't die of hunger because of that return on the investment (so close to the returns on investment we see in the context of the climate hysteria in general). A founder of eBay who is worth $9 billion was the main sponsor. He may have some spare bucks for a hamburger tonight and if you decide not to pay a few more bucks to him, he may survive that, too.
At the beginning and a few other places, a magician explains that he's the professional fraudster who admits that he is deceiving the people. That's why he doesn't like his colleagues who are doing the same but don't admit that they're deceiving folks. Needless to say, the climate skeptics are automatically assumed to be the fraudsters. It would be much more logical to compare the fraudsters in the magic industry to the actual fraudsters in the climate debate, namely the climate alarmists, and the movie doesn't find it important to present any evidence that their reverse link is the better one.
After that magical beginning, a very long portion of the film is dedicated to the tobacco industry and its efforts to spread doubts about the negative health impacts of smoking, the addictive nature of the nicotine, and other things. The tobacco industry had very good research labs, they say, but the results weren't honestly communicated outside the companies. A rather long discussion is also dedicated to flame retardants (added to the furniture, to make fires less dangerous) which are claimed not to work, be harmful to human health, and be a result of the work of the evil tobacco companies, too. Needless to say, the tobacco industry is identified with the climate skeptics as well even though there is no substantial correlation between these two questions or these two groups of people.
At some moment, James Hansen appears for the first time and claims that he prefers to do science over political activism. Those statements by Hansen about himself are pretty comical. He is undoubtedly one of the most well-known scientists in the world who became much more of an activist – and a fanatical one who doesn't hesitate to be arrested if it is needed to increase his visibility.
Fred Singer and Frederick Seitz are the heroes of the following minutes. It's pointed out that the formatting and thickness of the NIPCC reports – where your humble correspondent was a co-author at some point – are deliberately adjusted to agree with the formatting and thickness of the IPCC reports. I've never fully realized that. ;-)
Naomi Oreskes herself plays the role of a key narrator in the film. Has she found something wrong about the work and opinions of Singer and Seitz? If you wait for a little while, you will see her damning discovery: Both Singer and Seitz dared to dislike communism. Imagine that, the ultimate heresy! And they may have even favored free markets over the government regulation. That may have been more important for their lives than any money they could have gotten, she "accuses" them.
I don't know too well how children generally react to this adult stuff. But I am pretty sure that one must be messed up before he watches the movie – one must be a sort of communist with a very ugly head, like Ms Oreskes herself – not to be irritated by the strategy chosen to criticize Singer, Seitz, and others. It's very obvious to any decent mature viewer that aside from doing some high quality science, Singer and Seitz have been also defending some sound political values. By demonizing criticisms of communism, Ms Oreskes basically openly defends communism – even the "real" communism we knew from the Cold War. She can't earn the sympathies of any viewers except for those who have already had pathological ideas about politics to start with.
There are various rather boring people I don't know who were climate skeptics but became climate warriors. Someone who repairs motorbikes is shocked that his former bosses of conservative think tanks are conservative or that the lobbyists located in D.C. are registered lobbyists, indeed.
A great star of the movie is Marc Morano who appears after 1:00:00 or so. He reveals that he used to be a door-to-door salesman and knows how to sell things and ideas. He is proud about the publication of the climate alarmists' e-mails and contacts because it's right when those folks learn about the anger from the American public that hates them. Such targeted attacks are obviously problematic and I am totally convinced that pure scientists should enjoy the shielding from the dirty world of emotions and ordinary mortals. On the other hand, I do tend to agree that it's wrong when the alarmist villains who are actually working on a significant change of the political system, and not just some objective and innocent scientific research, are kept isolated from the real world and led to incorrectly believe that no one wants them to die for their wrongdoings. Millions of people want exactly that.
Marc Morano says quite something about his career. He's obviously a man with a mission, not an impartial scientist, but he is an incredibly good communicator, a man who has learned a lot of facts relevant for the climate debate, and a very likable character, too. I am actually amazed that no one has told Ms Oreskes about the problems with the appearances. When an impartial viewer watches the movie, he or she is bound to end up liking Marc Morano – and hate the nasty evil bitch. But the community of the climate alarmists is full of hypocrisy and coverups so I guess that no one has warned Ms Oreskes that she looks like a jerk and her role as a defender of the climate hysteria will inevitably have the opposite effect on all the 747 viewers of the film.
Climate alarmist Ben Santer presents himself as a quiet, modest, peaceful guy who is afraid of violence etc. The movie would be much more attractive if he were allowed to show what kind of a man he actually is, e.g. quote his ClimateGate e-mail:
From: Ben SanterWell, the catchy scenes haven't been included so this supernasty, near-murderous jerk named Ben Santer was painted as another boring sheep and the viewers must have been disappointed by this segment – which was both dishonest and uninteresting.
Next time I see Pat Michaels at a scientific meeting, I'll be tempted to beat the crap out of him. Very tempted.
There are some short scenes about the history, the ClimateGate, and other things. A detail I liked were collections of quotes from top moderate Republican politicians who were pretty much staunch alarmist believers sometime in 2006 – but ended up doubting if not humiliating the climate hysteria just a few years later. The change of the GOP's attitude towards the climate hysteria has indeed undergone a significant transformation in recent 5+ years or so. I guess that these observations haven't improved the morale of climate worriers and warriors who have watched the movie.
A magician returns and talks about the "levitation of a woman". They don't really expose the trick. If you really want to know how women are made to levitate, even though a hoop "proves" that there are no strings attached, watch this video. It's really very simple. The motion of the hoop in no way contradicts or intersects the actual skeleton that allows the woman levitate. Indeed, what's remarkable is that viewers like ourselves are led to believe that the hoop really "proves" something important. It doesn't. And when you learn how the levitation works, you will be able to see how it works at all times.
Needless to say, this intermezzo about magicians has nothing to do with the validity of any claims about the climate.
A few attacks are launched against the Koch brothers, some other companies, Russia, Americans for Prosperity, and other groups. At the end, one of the faceless guys who lost in an election is giving a sermon against fossil fuels. He is optimistic that he and his fellow jihadists will ban them.
At the end, the movie made me much less upset than I had expected. It is unquestionably a propaganda piece. But even when it gets to the schools, I have serious enough doubts about its ability to make a difference. It's a very complex question what are the optimum characteristics of a propaganda movie to achieve a certain goal.
In recent weeks, I was watching many episodes of Thirty Cases of Major Zeman. It's a soap opera about Mr Zeman, a big animal in the communist state police, and the 30 episodes start in 1945, shortly after the war, and end in 1973. I had watched several episodes before – but I had not seen (or I have completely forgotten) most others.
The communist bias is obvious and you know what the authorities wanted the viewers to think. On the other hand, I tend to say that it's a very well done serial and it almost never "overshoots" the message. The events are realistic, the "heroes" are reasonably human, and to a large extent, so are the "villains". When I watch these episodes, I end up having some understanding or even sympathy for the folks on the communist side (or even the communist state police etc.) but I really think that this sympathy is often deserved and the sitcom made some OK points. On the other hand, when it comes to lots of other issues, I keep my sympathies for the emigrants, anticommunist folks, and so on. I have the feeling that an almost identical soap opera about the era could be shot today. It would be assumed that the viewers sympathize with the anticommunist folks etc. and are distancing themselves from the hardcore commies – but the plot could be almost identical, anyway. ;-) Well, the communist cops would probably do a somewhat greater amount of evil acts if the soap opera were shot today.
Maybe this neutral appraisal may hold for the Merchant of Doubt propaganda movie, too. What an impartial viewer actually gets from the movie is that there is a conflict and the two sides don't like one another too much, differ in some respects, and fight one another. But how this movie could change the hearts seems incomprehensible to me. By cheap connections between climate skeptics or pro-free-market organizations on one side; and cheating P.R. departments of tobacco companies from the 1960s? I sincerely doubt (or hope?) that there are not too many viewers who are stupid enough not to see through this trick.
The character of this movie is completely different from some of the good skeptical documentaries, like The Great Global Warming Swindle (TGGWS). TGGWS was filled with historical, scientific, and political facts, popularization of mechanisms uncovered by science, and lots of other things. There is no science and no true evidence in the Merchants of Doubt. After all, Naomi Oreskes doesn't understand any science (or anything else that matters, for that matter). It's a propaganda movie that invites you to hate the climate skeptics as well as the tobacco industry, the free markets, and anti-communists. It doesn't really present good evidence that these topics are related or should be related. At the end, some people (or children) may find it enough to change their mind but I do think that people who buy the message of this movie are so terribly stupid and naive that they can't possibly influence the fate of the civilized nations. I think that when a person impressed by the Merchants of Doubt speaks, pretty much everyone else immediately sees that the person is a complete moron and most ordinary believers in the climate hysteria probably are.